Reality is a Weighty Thing

Stepping in to the hurt of a under-funded, under-staffed Haiti orphanage

A baby at a Haiti orphanage. Her condition is very weak without much available to care for her. © Heather Hendrick 2010

Kids at a Haiti orphanage. They do not have much...but they still find a way to have joy. © Heather Hendrick.  2010

Remember the four week old baby whose mother died?

Remember how she was offered to us? We were asked if we wanted her?

Remember how I said we cried over her and then sent her back to the orphanage?

An orphanage we had never seen.

Part of coming to Haiti for us is facing the orphan crisis in this country and hopefully in this world. We'll also admit that we're big wienies who don't like to face this stuff alone, so we are making you face it with us.

The moment a woman at your gate hands you her baby and begs you to take her is the moment when there's no more pretending. We had spent most of our life trying to insulate ourselves from pain, honesty and suffering while living in the US. When someone hands you a four week old baby and says, "Do you want her?" all that padding and insulation suddenly falls apart. The surround sound airbags explode, and the substance you're left with is cold, hard, and uncomfortable.

There is nowhere to hide. There is no buffering this much tragedy.

Reality sits in your lap and it's heavy.

As painful as reality is, we are tired of lying to ourselves.

One reason we came to Haiti was to face the truth. See it with our eyes. Hold it in our hands. Quit denying sadness on this scale is real.

When you look at the amount of suffering in our world, count up the number of orphans rotting away in crummy orphanages, and consider how poor the majority of people are on this earth, as a whole, I think we can all admit...the response from American Christians and the American church is ridiculous and embarrassing.

We live in Haiti right now, trying to learn how to fight these things, but let's never ever forget that just one year ago we were living in the US in a fancy house in a fancy neighborhood living the American dream ignoring the poor, the oppressed, and the orphan.

I don't think any of us want to be heartless jerks. I think we love this world and our stuff too much, but I think many believers long to be free from such bondage. I think it's easy to ignore the orphan and the poor because we don't have to face it. Maybe we don't want to face it. It's ironic how global our world has become, and yet it's still incredibly easy to shield ourselves from what is going on around the world when it comes to orphans, the poor, and the oppressed.

If each of us had to hold that four week old baby in our arms...a true orphan...truly in distress...if we had to look her in the eyes and then reject her, I don't think many Christians would do that. I think all the excuses we have for not adopting, or not giving would suddenly seem insane.

Yes, God needs to soften our hearts toward the poor and the orphan. He needs to do a lot of work in our souls, teaching us what it looks like to live for the Kingdom of God. I think we can all agree on this.

But I believe we also must do whatever it takes to come face to face with truth...with reality and what that looks like for millions of people living in devastating poverty and the vast number of fatherless children who are living in terrible conditions.

Truth seekers. Are we seeking the truth? Yes, the truth can be found in thick, old, theology books. It can be found in the Bible. But truth is also found in a smelly, dirt-floor orphanage in a third world country. Finding truth in the Bible and in world-famous theology books is a lot easier to find, I think. I've been guilty of only seeking after the truth that is convenient to find. Truth that is fun to argue with all my smart friends over coffee.

The kind of truth I found this week is so troubling, I hardly want to talk about it. And yet, I believe we are to be people who rejoice in the truth...who look for it and deal with it, who expect goodness and grace to radiate and Jesus to be found and glorified even in the darkest of situations.

We sent that baby back to the orphanage a few weeks ago.

Honestly, it took me a couple weeks to recover from such a rough weekend. Two babies were offered to us within three days. It was tragic. Did anyone prepare us for this before coming to Haiti? No. Could anyone prepare us for something like this? No.

Did we feel ready to take these kids in and raise them as our own? No. For lots of reasons, no. Some good, right reasons. Some selfish and faithless reasons.

So we cried a lot and sent both babies away.

For the four week old baby whose mother died that we sent back to the orphanage...well, the only way I coped was to imagine her in a nice place. We were not ready to take in a baby here, but when I thought of her, I'd think of her in a cute little orphanage with loving nannies. Her needs were met in my imagination. She was loved. She was being well cared for in the imaginary world I had prepared for her.

I knew I wasn't going to be able to do this for long...lie to myself. We came to Haiti to stop lying to ourselves.

We knew we were going to have to face this...all the way face it.

We had to go out to the orphanage and see where she is living with our own eyes. We had to know what saying "No, we can't take you" meant to this child.

Saying "No" in Haiti is never neutral. In the States, saying "No" can be neutral at times. In the States if I said, "No" to a four week old baby whose mother died at birth, someone else would snatch that baby up and raise her. The chances of her being adopted by a loving, excited couple would be pretty high.

Saying "No" to a baby in Haiti means there is a huge possibility that you are dooming her to a life filled with sickness, attachment disorders, abuse, neglect and inescapable poverty.

I did not want to go to the orphanage where this baby is living. I did not want to see the truth. You can judge me if you want to and wonder why on earth we didn't say yes to this kid if we love adoption as much as we say we do. You could judge me, or you could admit that you don't live in Haiti. You have no idea how hard this is or how complex adoption is in this country. You could judge me, or you could be honest...unless you're holding a baby from a place like Haiti or Uganda or Ethiopia or Russia in your arms right now, you too are saying no. If you're pretending that kids aren't suffering every single day in orphanages, then we're in the same boat. My boat is just a little further from the US at the moment.

Somehow God gave us the strength to get in the car and drive towards the find this baby and see for ourselves where she was.

I needed to face it...all of it...every ounce of it. I held this baby in my own home and said, "I don't know how to do this right now." I also needed to go see where saying those things to that child landed her. Until I had faced every speck of this situation, I felt like I was still hiding. I was still in denial.

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